SAN JOSE – The Blackhawks are catching the Sharks at a good time. San Jose has lost three straight in regulation, is dealing with a multitude of injuries, and its offense has gone stone cold.
The Sharks, though, might be facing Chicago at an optimal time, too. The Blackhawks ended a four-game losing streak in Vancouver on Wednesday night in British Columbia, and immediately flew to Las Vegas to spend two days in Sin City. Saturday’s morning skate at SAP Center was the first time they were on the ice since the conclusion of the 5-2 win over the Canucks.
I asked Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews about benefits of that sort of abnormal break, as well as the challenges coming out of it.
“We know we’ve got to be professionals tonight. We know we’ve got to be ready to play. No excuses there,” Toews said.
“At the same time, the bonding and the time we spend together off the ice, especially on this road trip, is huge for us. We like to have fun together and enjoy our time together, and the more we do that, the better we play and the more chemistry we have as a team. We’ve got to stay loose, keep playing, keep having fun the way we did in Vancouver and the last couple days, and just go out there and work our tails off and find a way to get two points.”
He doesn’t expect it to be an easy game against the Sharks, despite San Jose losing back-to-back games to the two worst teams in the Western Conference after a 1-0 loss to the Kings at home last Monday.
“They’re always dangerous, especially here at home. We’ll be ready for them to come out hard in the first period, like they always do. We know that there’s going to be some shifts you’re stuck in your own zone and it feels like all hell is breaking loose, but you’ve got to just try and under control and stay calm and play your position. Stick with it, and try and return the favor and get a little momentum going our way if we can.”
The Blackhawks are playing the second of a six-game road trip that continues in Los Angeles on Monday. Due to the Olympic break, and the circus taking over the United Center, they have no home games in the month of February.
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Michal Handzus’ trade to Chicago from San Jose on April 1 last year, in exchange for a fourth round pick, was beneficial to both clubs. The Sharks became a faster and harder team to play against after Handzus was one of several slower players sent packing, while Handzus aided Chicago in its run to another Stanley Cup.
At the time of the trade, Handzus had just one goal and one assist in 28 games in his second year with the Sharks. He went on to record six points in 11 regular season games with Chicago, and added 11 points in 23 playoff games. It was the first league championship of his career, then in its 14th year.
“Sometimes it’s about the fit, I guess,” Handzus said. “It’s nothing against the Sharks, but I hadn’t played my best here. It was a good fit for me right away in Chicago. It just took off, and you get confidence back. I played with really good players, too. Obviously, it was a lot of fun.”
Handzus, who had a no movement clause at the time, was not surprised when the trade occurred. He was a healthy scratch in the days leading up to it, and general manager Doug Wilson worked with Handzus’ agent to find the right destination.
“I knew something was going to come up. The trade deadline was coming. Obviously, I wasn’t happy with the way I played, and I’m sure they weren’t happy with my playing. We just parted ways. That’s how it is,” Handzus said.